Europe’s winter nightmare continues

Britain’s
prime minister offered troops to get airports working again as Europe’s
transportation chief questioned why more airports weren’t prepared for winter
weather, a failure that left outraged passengers struggling to get home for a
fourth straight day.

Prime
Minister David Cameron said his government had “offered military
assistance” to the company that operates Europe’s busiest airport and
others in Britain.

Heathrow
said it was grateful for the offer and didn’t need the help, but still would be
unable to restore full service until at least Thursday morning.

“We
currently have over 200 volunteers supporting our passengers in the terminals
and we have also engaged our construction contractors to assist with the
clearance of snow around the airport,” a spokeswoman said.

She
added officials need “breathing space” to clear remaining snow,
restart equipment and move planes and crews back into place.

Major
delays and cancellations also disrupted other European airports and the
Eurostar train link, leaving thousands stranded across Europe as Christmas approached.

European
Transportation Commissioner Siim Kallas said new airport regulations due to be
published before the summer could include new requirements on “minimal services”
that airports must provide during severe weather.

Kallas
said he will meet airport representatives soon “to ask for further
explanations and to take a hard look at what is necessary to make sure they
would be able to operate more effectively.”

“Airports
must ‘get serious’ about planning for this kind of severe weather
conditions,” Kallas said. “We have seen in recent years that snow in
Western Europe is not such an exceptional circumstance.

“Better
preparedness, in line with what is done in Northern Europe, is not an optional
extra. It must be planned for and with the necessary investment, particularly
on the side of the airports,” Kallas said.

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